Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

“In Brazil, I don’t know any black dancer in classical ballet”: A native of Rio, ballerina Ingrid Silva finds success in New York


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Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s story is great for a number of reasons. 1) As in stories of Afro-Brazilians excelling in areas such gymnastics and classical music, it represents another example of members of this population finding success in genres that Brazil considers them to be “out of place”. 2) As we’ve pointed out in numerous articles, Brazil has for decades held itself up as being a ‘racial democracy’ or at least less racist that the United States, yet one finds, even continuing to face widespread discrimination, blacks in the United States are found in areas/disciplines that would be next to impossible for black people in Brazil. 3) Brazilians often speak negatively of race relations in the US, where everything is segregated.

Although segregation never existed by law in Brazil, the fact is that the country separates by race using various other mechanisms. Reports show that middle-class white Brazilians often react negatively when persons of the “wrong race/class”  are seen in spaces they believe to be theirs exclusively (1). And when one speaks of areas in the US where blacks have carved out their own spaces after being excluded by whites, the typical Brazilian will turn their nose up and point out what they see as segregation while ignoring the fact that Brazil systematically reserves certain places/spaces for white/whiter Brazilians. And as singers Corona and Gaby Amarantos and now Ingrid Silva point out, classical dance is yet another of those spaces in Brazil!

Ingrid Silva during her recent appearance on the 'Encontro com Fátima Bernardes' talk show

Ingrid Silva during her recent appearance on the ‘Encontro com Fátima Bernardes’ talk show

A native Rio, ballerina Ingrid Silva finds success in New York.

Courtesy of R7 and Globo

The dancer delighted the audience with a brief performance

The dancer delighted the audience with a brief performance

At the age of eight, Ingrid Silva already knew what path she wanted to follow. As a child, with her mother’s encouragement, she entered exercise, swimming and ballet classes. But it was the latter that Ingrid fell in love and decided to dedicate herself to.

And at 18, she would begin to see the results of such dedication: In 2007, Ingrid decided to pack her bags and go to New York, after being approved in an audition to join the consecrated company Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Silva is a featured dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Silva is a featured dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem

“Bethânia Gomes was the main dancer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and suggested I send a video to the company. So I decided to send one, they liked me and I decided to go to summer school, which I was accepted with a full scholarship!”

Dancer Bethânia Gomes encouraged Silva to try out for the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancer Bethânia Gomes encouraged Silva to try out for the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Her parents always encouraged her and didn’t think twice about letting their daughter follow her dream.

“My mother was always the first to support me in my ballet rehearsal in the project [the Dance Theatre of Harlem], she’s a wonderful person to have let her own daughter to come to New York at age 18.”

Ingrid with her mother Maurnei Oliveira. Her mother's dream is to see her performing in New York

Ingrid with her mother Maurnei Oliveira. Her mother’s dream is to see her performing in New York

Even being so young and separating from her parents so soon, she said she didn’t have any great difficulty in New York, except for communicating.

“I didn’t speak English, but I didn’t even need! to The ballet classes and rehearsals were always super tranquil. I struggled to learn English and getting used to the culture.”

Silva is the first solo dancer of ballet in New York: ‘I felt welcomed’

In the United States for seven years, Ingrid says that there the prejudice is less: ‘In Brazil, don’t know any black ballerina in classical ballet’

Ingrid Silva, shown here with Taurean Green, Ingrid Silva is the first soloist of New York City Ballet

Ingrid Silva, shown here with Taurean Green, Ingrid Silva is the first soloist of New York City Ballet

The daughter of a maid and a retired officer of the Força Aérea (Air Force), Silva, 26, is living a fairy tale. On Encontro com Fátima Bernardes (talk show) last Wednesday (May 6th), she said that after much effort and go through moments of racism she is a highlight of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, one of ballet companies in New York, where she has been for seven years. The dancer also saw her face stamped on several posters in the city’s subways in last season.

Silva strikes a pose in the New York City subway

Silva strikes a pose in the New York City subway

In ballet companies almost all of the groups are comprised of white dancers. Asked about the matter, the young carioca (native of Rio de Janeiro) said that racism exists anywhere. “Any profession is beyond your race, color or anything. Are there black dancers? No. They are rare. In Brazil, I don’t know any black dancer in classical ballet. But in the Dance Theatre of Harlem, I felt welcome. It was one of the first black dance companies in the United States. I went to a place that where I was well received. There, you learn to dance and grow as a human being. Being the only black in all classes, there in the beginning, was no obstacle. There was racism, yes. But that never stopped me from dancing.”

"Ingrid says that black girls have more difficulty in pursuing classical ballet"

“Ingrid says that black girls have more difficulty in pursuing classical ballet”

The young dancer also commented on some strategies to adapt to the aesthetics of dance, very focused on the white students, such as selling only pink colored sneakers, causing such a big contrast with her skin tone. “I get a makeup, that we buy there, paint the slipper and the little ribbon with this makeup that would be for the face, with a liquid base. Already there are pantyhose in our skin tone,” said Ingrid, who also learned how to make a bun in a natural way keeping her hair in a natural style when letting it down.

Ingrid explained how she made her dance slippers more compatible with her skin tone

Ingrid explained how she made her dance slippers more compatible with her skin tone

With her attempt of getting a visa denied from the United States, the dancer’s mother, the maid Maurnei Oliveira, revealed what her greatest wish would be: “My dream is to see her dancing on stage.” The mother of the ballet star has already seen her daughter’s routines but might not have the pleasure of seeing her shining during a spectacular of the New York-based company.

Source: Globo, R7

Note

1. We’ve seen consistent examples of this in Brazilian society, be it in physical areas or in advertising, for examples.

9 comments on ““In Brazil, I don’t know any black dancer in classical ballet”: A native of Rio, ballerina Ingrid Silva finds success in New York

  1. Why
    May 11, 2015

    Why do Black people have this desire to be acknowledged by whites?

    • Maureen Davis
      June 13, 2015

      You got that wrong. It has NEVER been the intent to be recognized by whites but to have a fair and equal chance to pursue our dreams. Why do you believe we seek White acknowledgement? Have you been lead to believe that Blacks don’t do certain things? Don’t you realize that there is nothing African American can’t do, when all things are fair and equal. I am saddened by your statement because it shows your state of mind.

    • Hybridwoman
      June 13, 2015

      We are not asking to be acknowledged by whites, we just want to be given the same opportunities and respect. Is that asking too much.

    • Taylor
      June 13, 2015

      It not about being acknowledged its about being accepted….. Why do white people take melanin to have our youth…. Why do they tan…to get that golden brown skin we possess..

    • Thatmom
      June 13, 2015

      Your question has nothing to do with this article. No where in the article does it read that she is wanting/needing white peoples acknowledgement, acceptance or approval. It does acknowledge her but not for the reason you have stated in the form of a question. If anything I would say it speaks to overcoming, it speaks to her success in a field that is not traditionally accepting of people her color. It’s a “if she can do it you can too”, type article. There is absolutely nothing wrong for getting or wanting recognition for accomplishments no matter what race you are. That is a human nature thing not a race thing. But when race does come into play, what is wrong with identifying the persons ethnicity? To me it makes the story all the more great and powerful. This story would not be of much substance if it were not about a person of color because of the fact that traditionally people of color were not accepted or allowed widely in this artistry. Of course you may not agree, but I say why not and it should be done even more showing the accomplishments of people of color not just blacks. I think it will balance out some of the negative stereotypes of people of color especially blacks in America.

  2. celestedolores
    May 14, 2015

    Congrats to this young lady!

    Have you seen the documentary “Vida ballet” (Only When I Dance)? It is about two black ballet dancers (one male, one female) from Rio. The guy made it, Irlan Santos, and he went to ABT and now is with Boston Ballet. The young woman had lots of problems in the documentary.

  3. jackie young
    June 13, 2015

    Afro-Brazilians??????

  4. jackie young
    June 13, 2015

    No such thing as Afro. Afro is not a country or a continent. Afro is a HAIRSTYLE!!
    Why do black people accept this label?? You are not Afro – that is a hairstyle. You are African. I have seen black hair stores offering ‘Afro-Caribbean’ hair products. WTF??? Know your identity.

    • gatasnegrasbrasileiras
      June 13, 2015

      Hello Jackie! Thanks for your comment, but while the term “Afro” in the North American context is associated with the hairstyle, in the Spanish and Portuguese context the term “Afro” is a reference to “African”. If you remember, before the term “African-American” became popular in the US and after the term “negro” (also taken from Spanish and Portuguese) was discarded/rejected, the term “Afro-American” became popular, meaning American of African descent. There are other words in US history that were borrowed from non-US/English sources. The terms “nigra” and “negress” are derived and/or come from the Latin/Romance context of the words also. Even the derogatory term “pickaninny” comes from the Portuguese term “pequeninho”, meaning “little one”. Just FYI…

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This entry was posted on May 10, 2015 by in dance, New York, Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , .
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